The recession was, back in 2009, referred to as a “he-cession,” as the media heralded the acceleration of “the great shift of power from males to females.” Men experienced disproportionately high job losses, and others pointed to Wall Street’s “macho risk-taking” as the culprit for inflating and then crushing male-dominated industries like construction. Others pointed out that women were not being fired in such large numbers because they were more likely to be concentrated in part-time or low-wage work, and because women are still impacted by a pay gap, and are thus cheaper to employ.
Two years later, the latter view seems to have won out. An article in the New York Times points to budget austerities’ potential to change the way that governments interact with citizens’ lives. As governments seek to cut down on costs, it’s women’s livelihoods and well-being that may be on the chopping block. Mothers depend on affordable child care to work; female retirees tend to live longer; and women are concentrated in the public sector. These crucial jobs and services are likely to be among the first to go as governments seek to contract.
“This is not just individual categories of women losing out, this is structural: This is rolling back gender equality,” said Anna Bird, acting chief executive officer of a women’s advocacy group based in London.
Britain is one of the places where we can begin to see these changes affecting women in the short term. There, women account for about 65 percent of public sector workers and account for even larger proportions of low-pay, low-grade positions, and are thus likely to be hit harder than men when the British government eliminates half a million jobs.
Women are also being impacted by pay freezes; according to the Women’s Budget Group, three out of four of people subject to pay freezes are women. This can only make the pay gap worse.
And these are just the ways that job cuts will affect women, to say nothing of the programs that will be slashed through new austerity measures. Child care services and battered women’s shelters will suffer from loss of funding. Overall, it’s estimated that while the average British household will lose 6.8% of its income due to these measures, single female retirees will lose 11.7 percent, and single mothers a whopping 18.5. And although the new budget supplies tax breaks and benefits for business, this will disproportionately benefit men, who own more businesses and business shares than women.
Ultimately, some worry that policymakers’ apparent lack of consideration for how these cuts will differently impact men and women will end up costing the country more than it saves.
“You have to think about the long-term costs of austerity,” said Monica Quiesser, head of social policy at the Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development. “Policies that help women combine work and family life will contribute to families’ economic resilience, boost economic growth and ultimately tax revenues. Policies that don’t risk doing the opposite.”
One thing is clear: despite the panic two years ago, the “he-cession” doesn’t seem to have lasted very long. And now, politicians have a responsibility to think about where the burden of their austerity measures are going – and whether it’s fair to sacrifice women and children’s well-being for the sake of a slimmer budget.
Photo from Wikimedia Commons.